Prudence Dailey’s Commentary: General Synod Report

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary

February 2022 General Synod Report

The General Synod met for three days in early February in Church House, London. Over the course of a packed agenda, these were some of the moments that stood out for me.

The Church of England is still agonising over its supposed ‘institutional racism’, and an Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice has been established to address this apparent problem, along with a programme of various measures which will, it seems, cost upwards of £9 million to implement. Although it was not entirely clear where the money was coming from, the Chairman of the Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee, John Spence, assured the Synod that the ‘money can always be found’ if something is deemed to be sufficiently important. So that’s alright, then: at least Parishes struggling to make ends meet can see where priorities currently lie.

Referring to the memorial to Tobias Rustat in Jesus College, Cambridge, the Archbishop of Canterbury queried why it was ‘so much agony to remove a memorial to slavery’ (sic). For the benefit of non-Anglican readers, alterations to the fabric of church buildings generally require a ‘faculty’, which is a kind of ecclesiastical planning permission, administered by Dioceses: it is this faculty system which prevents churches from tampering with historic buildings and artefacts without going through a proper process. This system also provides an opportunity for objectors to raise their concerns—which, in this case, Archbishop Welby would like to see brushed aside.

The matter of faculties came up again during discussion of the snappily named ‘Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2022’. Aimed at enabling churches to reduce CO2 emissions, these included uncontroversial proposals to enable works aimed at improving environmental efficiency to be carried out without a faculty. At the same time, though, they also contained a provision that the like-for-like replacement of a fossil fuel boiler will now require a faculty, which has not hitherto been the case. Against protests that the additional time and expense associated with obtaining a faculty might mean cold churches in winter (quite possibly over Christmas), Morag Ellis QC—who as Dean of the Arches is the Church of England’s most senior ecclesiastical judge—unforgettably claimed that there was no reason why boilers were more likely to break down in winter! The force of the ‘net zero’ religion meant that a number of amendments aimed at removing the requirement for a faculty for fossil fuel boiler replacement were rejected, but not by a huge margin: there are further stages these proposals will need to go through before they become law. If Archbishop Welby gets his way, though, it will be easier for churches to rip out their historic monuments than to replace their boiler.

Another matter under discussion was the Church of England’s planned governance review: while this may have no immediate impact on those in the pews, it will affect how the Church is managed and run and the highest levels. It is certainly the case that the current structure of interlocking Boards, Councils and Committees is so complex that it can sometimes be almost impossible to know where responsibility—and therefore accountability—lies: everyone agrees that this needs reform. As they stand, however, there is a danger that the proposals will result in a more technocratic Church, with the democratic elements of its governance severely diluted. One especially worrying recommendation is the establishment of a nominations committee, which would vet candidates for elective positions to ensure their perceived suitability before putting them before the electorate. I attempted, unsuccessfully, to introduce an amendment to remove this provision, on the grounds that it will stifle diversity of thought and is likely to be used to weed out those who might rock the boat; but there will be further opportunities to return to this before it becomes a reality.

Of course, there were positive moments, too. A worthwhile motion from the Lichfield Diocese calling on the Church to do more for persecuted Christians worldwide was carried unanimously; and one lunchtime, there was a truly lovely Prayer Book Communion service in the small Church House chapel, which even included the administration of the common cup!

Overall, there is life in the Church of England yet—but it needs your prayers.